Trump asks Congress for $4.5 billion more in emergency border money

Key Points
  • The Trump administration asks Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency border funding.
  • The request will increase tensions with Democrats and comes as President Trump runs for reelection while pledging to crack down on illegal immigration.
  • The money would be separate from what Trump has already sought.
Central American migrants turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol as they seek asylum after illegally crossing the Rio Grande near Penitas, Texas, April 6, 2019.
Loren Elliott | Reuters

The White House on Wednesday asked Congress for an additional $4.5 billion in emergency border, a request likely to escalate simmering tensions over immigration.

Citing what it calls a crisis spurred by an influx of migrants at the southern border, the Trump administration pushed for $3.3 billion in humanitarian assistance, $1.1 billion for border operations and $178 million for mission support. The money is separate from the $8.6 billion the White House already sought for the president's proposed border wall in its fiscal 2020 budget.

"I urge the Congress to take swift action to provide the additional funding requested to address the humanitarian and border security crisis at the United States southern border," acting budget director Russ Vought wrote in asking for the money.

According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters Wednesday, the emergency funds are necessary in part because the funds President Donald Trump requested as part of his declaration of a national emergency have stringent limitations on how they can be used.

For example, a large portion of the money Trump has requested from the Department of Defense would come from a congressional military construction appropriation, and that money would therefore need to be spent within the limits of its appropriated usage.

Officials also confirmed Wednesday that the funds included in this supplemental budgetary request would not be used for construction of a border wall.

The request comes as Trump runs for reelection pledging to crack down on illegal immigration. It follows a national emergency declaration earlier this year that Trump used to try to secure $8 billion to build barriers and follow through on a key campaign promise.

The request sets up yet another fight over funding for border security, which led to a record 35-day partial government shutdown in December and January. Congress has to pass funding legislation by the end of the fiscal year in September to avoid another closure.

Democrats, who control the House and have fought Trump's immigration policy, will likely oppose the new funding. The House Appropriations Committee will review the request, but some provisions within it — such as a proposal for more Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds — do not have Democratic support, a House Democratic aide said.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the powerful chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said the committee would "carefully review this request in its totality and, where possible, work with the Senate and the White House to make conditions at the border more humane."

Senior administration officials said that, as part of negotiations over the request, they would be open to discussing with Congress potential policy changes to the current system that governs the detention and processing of migrants and asylum seekers.

However, the officials emphasized that the funds were primarily needed to respond to what they called a worsening humanitarian crisis at the border, and not to accomplish Trump's more political goals of reducing overall undocumented immigration and building a wall on the southern border.

In the past two years, they said, there has been a dramatic shift in the demographic composition of the groups of undocumented immigrants who are apprehended at the border.

Where there was once a preponderance of young, single men apprehended, this year over half of apprehensions have been migrant families, officials said.

There are also vastly increased numbers of unaccompanied children taken into custody at the border, who eventually need to be transferred to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than remain in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security.

At the current rate, officials said, HHS is at risk of exhausting by June all of the resources it has set aside to care for unaccompanied migrant children.

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